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Reporting the Truth.
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Former Minnesota Pastor Charged with Sex Crimes Concerning 14-Year-Old

By Rebecca Hopkins
luverne zacharias pastor minnesota mn
Luverne Daniel Zacharias, 46, former pastor of Christian Family Church in Owatonna, Minnesota, pictured in 2014, has been charged with several felony sex crimes involving minors. (Photo: Facebook)

A former Minnesota pastor has been charged with several felony sex crimes for allegedly sexually touching a girl in a school basement and at his church office, beginning when she was 14, court records show.

Luverne Daniel Zacharias, 46, former pastor of Owatonna’s Christian Family Church (CFC), reportedly told the girl she was his “kryptonite,” according to records from the Steele County District Court. And when the victim reported the matter to the head pastors, they reportedly discouraged her from going to police, telling her to think about how that would affect his own kids, records show.

Zacharias is being charged with six counts of criminal sexual conduct, including charges related to penetration, sexual touch, and abusing his position of authority, court records show. Zacharias was the victim’s youth pastor at the time of the abuses and was also the principal of El Shaddai Christian School, a school associated with CFC.

The abuse allegedly happened from 2006-2009, beginning when the victim was a middle school student at the school, records show. Later, Zacharias was reportedly promoted to campus pastor, then resigned a year ago, stating “poor choices” as the reason.

CFC has connections to Oral Roberts University, according to the Owatonna’s People’s Press, and Oral Roberts’ son, Richard Roberts, led a healing service at the church in 2019.

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christian family church CFC owatonna MN
Christian Family Church in Owatonna, Minnesota. (Photo: social media)

The church also gained attention in November 2023 for erecting a 77-foot, 7-inch cross and prayer garden along Interstate 35 that cost $4 million of donor money, the Press reported.

Alleged abuse

The victim told police in her statement that “teachers would send kids to the basement to retrieve milk from the fridge, sometimes Zacharias would be down there.”

Zacharias wrote her notes and told her she was “beautiful,” that she reminded him of her daughter, the victim’s statement says. He reportedly added, “I can’t control myself around you,” and “you’re my kryptonite.”

He initially sexually touched her at least once a day over her clothing, she reportedly told police. Eight or nine months later, he started touching her underneath her clothing, penetrating her. He also would move her hand to feel his penis over his clothing. The abuse happened at the school and the church until the victim graduated in 2009, court records state.

In 2019, Zacharias contacted her, asking for oral sex, she told police in a statement. In 2021, he reportedly asked her to send him nude photos or videos of her.

The victim refused and then reported the abuse to Tim and Cherrie Peterson, pastors of CFC, her statement to police states. In 2022, she reported the matter to the Owatonna Police Department.

The Petersons did not respond to multiple requests by The Roys Report (TRR) for comment.

A relative of the victim, also a former student, told police in a statement that Zacharias also contacted her in 2011 and asked for oral sex and for her to send him pictures.

“When she would go to the church and see him, he would close off his door and right (sic) the messages on pieces of paper so no one would hear,” police stated in court documents. “The former student stated she would say no to him or freeze and tense up when he asked these questions.”

luverne zacharias mn
Luverne Zacharias preaches at Christian Family Church in Owatonna, Minnesota. (Video screengrab / Facebook)

Alleged mishandling of reports

When the first victim reported the assault to the Petersons, they told her they’d “hold Zacharias accountable for his actions,” according to the victim’s statement to police. But they also reportedly discouraged her from reporting the matter to police, noting the impact on the Zacharias family, records state.

A former church member reportedly told police that she was present for a “reconciliation” meeting with Zacharias, Cherrie Peterson, and the father of a victim, records show.

cfc minnesota peterson
CFC Pastors Tim and Cherrie Peterson. (Photo: Facebook)

Cherrie Peterson told police in her statement that Zacharias admitted to the Petersons that he gave the victim “a couple of hugs when she was fifteen or sixteen from behind,” but said it was a “quick hug” that he regretted. In her statement, Cherrie Peterson told police Zacharias knew he should resign, but the Petersons were also trying to “restore him.”

Cherrie Peterson later told police that she knew about “inappropriate texts” Zacharias sent a then 17-year-old student. She said she suggested Zacharias “got counseling at the time,” court records state.

In a statement, a witness told police that the day Zacharias stepped down as pastor, the Petersons told the congregation not to record the church sermon. This seemed off, so the witness did it anyway, according to the witness’ statement.

The recording showed that Tim Peterson talked about “rebuking wrong behavior and restoring people of the congregation,” according to the police statement. Zacharias also spoke to the congregation to say he was resigning as campus pastor due to “poor choices,” police said in a statement.

“Today I am sharing with my church family that I have made poor choices in my past that I am not proud of,” Zacharias said in the recording provided to police. “These choices caused me to be unfit for my pastoral position. To protect my two girls and wife I will not share the details. I am now focusing on restoration.”

In response to the news about Zacharias, a former CFC member came forward to the Steele County Times this week alleging the Petersons mishandled a different case in 2019.

The former church member told the newspaper that church members discovered through a background check that staffer Phillip Lee Holmer, who helped in the nursery, had served jail time in 2014 for sex abuse in Oregon.

luverne zacharias cfc minnesota
On April 11, 2021, Luverne Zacharias preaches at Christian Family Church in Owatonna, Minnesota. (Photo: Facebook)

When these members tried to tell the Petersons about the man, asking they remove him from working with children and alert parents, the Petersons didn’t answer for a month, the Steele County Times reported. Instead, the Petersons’ son, Trey, also church staff, answered, saying, “You will all be surprised at how much of that information is inaccurate,” the Steele County Times reported.

Trey reportedly told members that Holmer was removed from ministry. However, the Steele County Times in Owatonna reported that Holmer was working at the church as recently as last year.

Zacharias’ victim told police in her statement she believed the church isn’t keeping kids safe.

“Victim 1 advised that the reason she is coming forward with her story is so no one else goes through what she went through, and she does not think the church is going to do enough to keep kids safe,” court records show.

In a January 23 motion, Zacharias’ attorney requested the case be dismissed due to being “untimely” and “lack of probable cause,” Owatonna People’s Press reported. The settlement conference will be held May 30, the Press reported.

Rebecca Hopkins is a journalist based in Colorado.

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5 Responses

  1. Thanks for this revelation of facts. I continue to be angered by these wolves in sheep’s clothing. I fault the head pastor and his wife equally as the perpetrator in this. They should step down and NOT ever be restored….I am sickened how they just keep on preaching while their victims lives are destroyed. Keep unveiling these evil doers.

  2. The acts perpetrated by that “pastor” were not acts of “bad behavior:” they were CRIMINAL ACTS. Doesn’t Minnesota have a Mandatory Reporter statutes on the books that require all pastors, teachers, counselors, physicians, etc to report any and all sexual abuse to the authorities? This entire report is more than disgusting.

  3. Sickening. First the egregious abuse; the access to children by a predator (held up as a leader) hanging around spaces where children (teens are legally under-age children and deserve protection) are required to be daily, the lack of truth and accountability, the assumption the organization is above the law and not subject to the legal system, and the consummate nepotism (common in evangelicalism) which muddles accountability and fuels defensiveness. One wonders why so many apparently narcissistic, sometimes criminal, under-qualified people are running these schools, child-care institutions, and churches, assumed to be upstanding, moral leaders because of ‘belief’.
    Further, the crusade imagery of the horrendous statue positioned outside the church speaks to a distorted and dominant ideology, a complete lack of judgment, let alone in the use of donated funds. I cannot imagine why anyone would choose to put their children in this environment.

  4. There’s nothing wrong with restoration but it doesn’t mean being restored to Christian leadership. All Christian leaders need to be above reproach. This must apply particularly to those Christian leaders who have committed sin against others – sexual immorality, love of money, false witness etc. It’s all there in the Good Book. It shouldn’t be that difficult.

  5. “Moreover, the initial reluctance to involve law enforcement and attempt to handle matters internally in Zacharias’ case raises serious questions about the accountability of institutions and their responsibility to safeguard those under their care.” https://bnnbreaking.com/breaking-news/crime/two-minnesota-cases-expose-sexual-abuse-and-systemic-failures. That’s an understatement. Petersons have a lot to lose: “The Petersons “want the big lifestyle; they live in an 8,000-square-foot mansion; they used to have a second home on Lake Minnetonka. They have a condo in Mexico and at least one place in Florida,” Mary said.
    Their primary residence, which is in a secluded area of Lakeville, is a 7,914 square foot house on a 3.4-acre lot. Real estate records estimate the value of the home from $1.7 million to just under $3.2 million. Property tax records show the Lakeville residence is owned by the church, which makes it exempt from property taxes.
    The homes were all reportedly purchased under the church’s name; the Petersons refuse to release their financial records or disclose how much they or their children make from the different campuses.” More related abuse here: http://steelecountytimes.com/anyone-who-turns-blind-eye-complicit

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